A guest blog kindly contributed by Janet Metcalfe, Head, Vitae
The 2008 Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers sets out clear standards that research staff can expect from the institution that employs them, as well as their responsibilities as researchers The sector consultation launched by the Concordat Strategy Group (CSG) to inform the revision of the Concordat is really gathering momentum, with over 1000 people having accessed the online questionnaire.
This is a ten year opportunity to feed into and shape the Concordat going forward so that we create a research culture for researchers to flourish. A revised Concordat will not only help sustain the UK’s research excellence, but through a supply of highly talented researchers also bring benefits to the health, economy and well-being of our society. In a climate of Brexit and increasingly global competition, highly talented researchers are critical to achieving the Government’s Industrial Strategy to increase investment in research and innovation to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.
The independent review of the Concordat recommends the sector takes a strategic approach in considering the needs of the UK for skilled researchers through commitment to activities to develop the skills of research staff regardless of contract length and in preparation for diverse career paths.
The review recommendations include new principles for research funders and principal investigators, particularly addressing the potential tension between the needs of principal investigators and providing opportunity for research staff to develop their research identity.
Will anything change? The current Concordat has definitely made a difference over the last ten years in the strategies, policies and practice in institutions. Research staff are more likely to be treated equally with other members of staff – apart from promotion and progression opportunities; participating in induction and appraisal processes; having access to training and development opportunities and being more aware of equality, diversity and inclusive (EDI) issues. But how much has it changed on the ground for researchers? We have seen only a small reduction in the use of fixed term contracts for research staff, with a fifth still on contracts of a year or less. Many researchers are interested in investing in more professional development, in mentoring opportunities and placements, but few have the opportunity to do this.
Understandably, there is some scepticism from research staff that a revised Concordat will make a significant difference to their lives. Many of the recommendations in the review require significant policy changes by institutions and funders and in the attitudes and behaviours of principal investigators. Particularly, the recommendation for research staff to have 20% of their time available for developing their research identity and professional and career development will need changes in employment contracts for research staff – preferably through open contracts, which may continue to be limited by funding, but that acknowledge that research staff are valuable members of staff.
Do have your say in what the new Concordat should look like. The online consultation is open until 7 January 2019 alongside a series of sector consultation events open to all. An event in Oxford in partnership with UKRSA specifically is seeking the voices of research staff and other staff engaged in research, such as technicians and ‘hidden researchers’ (on teaching contracts while trying to sustain their research activity).
The CSG want to hear from everyone with a stake in supporting the career development of researchers. If our collective input helps create a better future environment for researchers then it is surely time well spent.